Ah yes, Oxford, city of dreaming spires. It is an imaginatively rich space for me. I have no doubt that its cobblestones, libraries, gargoyles, parks, and pubs are lifted in my imagination by the myth of the place, its scholars, its writers, its martyrs and poets. Still, there is beauty and history that draw me in every time.
Though I might be tempted to spend my days there just wandering through streets and fields and halls, I will be doing research in the C.S. Lewis archive at the Bodleian. I should finish my manuscript work on The Quest of Bleheris, and am working on his teenage poetry, a few other fragments, and some things that are autobiographically interesting. In the latter camp is the manuscript of a working draft of A Grief Observed, which keeps calling to me, though I haven’t quite cracked a thesis out of it yet. I really need to see the original four notebooks Lewis used to record his experiences, if any of you happen to have them lying around. Watch for hopeful publications from this work in 2019 and 2020.
And, on October 23rd, I am returning to Oxford to speak at the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society, which is pretty exciting for me (more anon).
First, to Cheltenham. No, I have not discovered a secret Inklings lair. Cheltenham is simply where we have old friends (old in terms of friendship, not age). One of these is Dr. Matt Lynch, a fellow Regent College alum who co-hosts the fun and informative podcast on biblical studies, OnScript. Besides leisure, I’m hoping to visit Dr. Lucy Peppiatt, author of a new book, Unveiling Paul’s Women. She is also principal of Westminster Theological Centre, a school that offers a unique and innovative approach to theological training.
Humorously, on one of his Easter walks C.S. Lewis spoke of “that most loathsome city, Cheltenham” (April 1928 letter to Warren). Sorry locals, but he was still in the young punk stage. Inklings member Neville Coghill died in Cheltenham on 6 Nov 1980. John Tolkien was born in Cheltenham in 1917 (Edith was from Gloucestershire), though I know next to nothing else about the place.
I will also be spending a weekend with Tolkien Blogger, Stephen Winter. I’ve talked about his “Wisdom From the Lord of the Rings” blog before, and I am interested in the area where he lives partly because it is an Inklings hotspot. The Malvern Hills are famous walking places, calling to Lewis and Tolkien at points. This is Tolkien’s wife’s home area, and his boyhood Birmingham wasn’t far away. Lewis went to school in Malvern (the Wyvern in Surprised by Joy), and George Sayer was head of English at Malvern College for much of his life. I also surmised that there is a real town behind the fictional happenings of the Space Trilogy so I would like to get my feet on the ground there to know.
Besides hosting a University with a stellar Theology and Religious Studies programme, Chester is a brilliant city. On the border with Wales and having experienced explosive growth at the university with students from all over the world, the city brings together history, culture, and a new kind of dynamism. A walk along the canal and outside the city gates will show that there are still parts of the Roman wall in place. The site of the Chester Cathedral may well have been a worship space in late Roman occupation, and its building has features that go back to the 11th century. It contains Norman and Gothic architecture, a very convincing pipe organ that supports worship and concerts, and the hundreds of surprising pieces of art you’ll see in any cathedral but also only the one you are in. In Chester, the art is sometimes open for all, with stained glass windows, gardens, architecture, and music. But much of its artisan beauty is hidden for those with eyes to see, secreted into wood and stone, light and line. As you walk up the bell tower for a brilliant panoramic view you see the old belfry. Though the campanile was moved to another building, the bells still ring out Chester’s hours.
Chester is a great city, and I will be there for much of October, reading and writing and attending some events on campus.
This is my month in the UK. It sounds more exotic on the page, as I have highlighted the 20% of the time I won’t be in my rooms writing. If you are an Inklings buff, or a student or alum of Regent College or Signum University, and you are in one of these areas, drop me a line (junkola [at] gmail [dot] com).